A guide to tasting olive oil like a pro.admin | February 3, 2010
Here is a guide to tasting extra virgin olive oil like the pro’s do it. There are a few bits of wanky paraphernalia which specialists oil tasters use like sapphire blue tasting glasses and warming mats, but I’ll assume that you don’t have access to these, or ever will. In any case, I don’t believe that they help the tasting experience that much anyway. You will also hear some lay down rules about how you do it, and you’ll be told that the world will come to an end if you do it even marginally differently. Just ignore them. The following guide is a more practical and less anal. Hopefully you will have some fun doing it.
- Taste in a quiet, clean odorless airy location.
- Avoid the use of odorous cosmetics, fragrances and lipstick.
- Avoid drinking or eating a reasonable time before a tasting. Use common sense here. Some people cope better than others with interferences so, “know yourself”.
- Limit the number of samples tasted to what you feel comfortable with. Three to four is often quoted but many more experienced people can adequately cope with around 10.
- If possible, taste the “milder” less bitter oils first, followed by the more bitter “robust” oils.
- Use tasting cups that have a large bowl volume relative to their opening diameter, and are large enough so that you can swirl 5-10 mls of oil vigorously, and deep enough that the end of your nose doesn’t get oily! I use a lot of inert plastic disposable cups. They have an opening of around 4cm, are a touch deeper and hold 100mls.
- Have water and apple slices available to cleanse the palate between oils.
- My website contains a lot of free tasting resources which you can download for free. Tasting mats, score sheets, lists of olive oil descriptors and the like. You can find these at: www.aromadictionary.com/oliveoiltasting.html
HOW IT’S DONE
Assessing the Oil’s Aroma
- Pour approximately 10-15 mls of oil in a small cup.
- Assess the oil at approximately (28oC), that is, lukewarm. This can be achieved by holding the bowl of the glass in the hand while gently swirling.
- Swirl the oil vigorously with your hand over the top of the cup (or better still use a plastic lid – the sort that you put over take-away hot coffee will do). Swirling increases the surface area of the oil allowing more aroma volatiles to be released.
- Sniff vigorously. Don’t be shy!
Assessing the In Mouth Sensations of Flavour, Bitterness and Pungency (pepperyness)
- Taste approximately 3mls of oil
- Distribute the oil within the mouth and hold the oil in the mouth for a sufficient length of time to warm the oil to body temperature.
- Grit your teeth and draw air through the oil (in a rather violent fashion). This is called aspiration and allows the oil to partly atomise which results in the release of flavour volatiles. This is the ’secret handshake’ of oil tasters so it’s worth doing for the pose factor alone.
- Bitterness and pungency are more easily perceived on the back portion of the tongue and soft palate. For this reason it is advisable to swallow a small amount of oil.
- Spit the oil out and assess the amount and length of flavour, bitterness and pungency. Don’t turn off after you spit as the oil can tell you a lot more if you persevere.
Preparing for the Next Sample
Rinsing your mouth out with water and eating slices of apple helps to prepare your palate for the next sample. Some tasters do this after every sample in an attempt to eliminate flavours from the previous oil. Others do it every few samples in an attempt to keep the palate “fresh” by reducing the oily residue feel that accumulates after a few samples. Most importantly, take as much time as you think you need.